The Anxiety and shame that accompany Social Anxiety Disorder can slowly engulf your life. Every decision you make, every interaction you have—all of them can become guided by this fear if left unchecked for too long. You dread situations where you think you’ll be rejected and humiliated, and start shaping your life around avoiding any moment that could potentially lead to these outcomes. Through this avoidance, you begin to attend fewer family functions, fall out of touch with your friends, and get out of the house less and less. At the end of it all, you find your world has shrunk to just yourself and a select few faces and places—you’re cut off from the rest of the planet, along with all the potential experiences (good and bad) it has to offer.
Though this can be a lonely situation to find yourself in, remember that you’re not alone—approximately 15 million people struggle with Social Anxiety in a given year and know how suffocating and frustrating social anxiety can be. On the one hand, you wish to be rid of it, to be able to live your life without fear—but on the other hand, overcoming it may seem a daunting, even impossible, challenge to face. You worry that opening up about your anxiety will also leave you wide open to judgment or rejection, and the thought of speaking directly to a therapist or other mental health professional likely makes you more than a little uncomfortable.
Perhaps you’re not aware of your treatment options, or perhaps you, like so many others, simply don’t know where to begin—currently, only one-third of people with anxiety disorders receive treatment. Now, however, thanks to advancements in both psychology and technology, new tools are being developed that can help you find the treatment and resources you need to begin your journey to recovery.
Taking the First Steps
Technology is becoming an increasingly popular tool for people struggling with mental health challenges, and a new free iOS app called Steps continues this trend—the app offers people struggling with social anxiety disorder a unique gateway to recovery by guiding you through incremental goals designed to help you learn how to better cope with your anxiety and, ultimately, reduce its effects.
“Social anxiety is a highly underrated mental health issue, too seldomly addressed in society leading to a lack of awareness,” says Fabian Elhert, co-founder of the app. “But also for the ones who are aware of their mental health issues, it can be hard to get treatment.”
With Steps, Elhert and his team sought to make it easier to get treatment—the app offers users challenges and goals that aim to help people living with social anxiety disorder overcome obstacles in a manner similar to exposure therapy. This form of therapy, which has repeatedly been shown to be an effective solution for this mental health challenge, involves repeatedly putting people in situations that cause them anxiety without any actual danger present, helping them overcome their anxieties and phobias by gradually turning the fearsome into the familiar. With Steps, the app might ask you to greet three people during the course of your day, go somewhere you’ve never been, or ask a coworker to go for a walk.
The app allows you to choose areas that you want to improve in, such as confidence or worrying about what others think, and within these areas are a number of tasks that vary in their intensity. Progress is all up to you, meaning you can choose and finish each task as you wish, and this non-intrusive nature allows users to progress at their own pace, making it a great stepping stone for people that need that extra incentive to get treatment.
If you’ve been avoiding getting help for your social anxiety because the thought of approaching someone in-person about your struggles is a scary thought, this app could be the perfect way to ease yourself into treatment and open up the door to therapy-based programs that are more structured once you’re comfortable enough to do so. For example, one section of tasks is completely dedicated to building confidence, while another focuses on trying new things. By boosting your confidence and becoming more comfortable with the idea of getting out and experiencing the unfamiliar, you can curb your anxiety levels and put yourself in a mental space where you feel comfortable addressing it with an actual therapist.
Realizing the Potential of Psychotherapies
In terms of therapeutic treatments, one of the most effective methods for social anxiety disorder is psychotherapy, in particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). When treating social phobia, CBT integrates some of the core tenets of exposure therapy—particularly the importance of exposing people to situations that create anxiety in order to help them overcome the root of their disorder. But with CBT, after being desensitized and reducing anxiety reactions in these phobic situations, you undergo what is referred to as “cognitive restructuring.” This is a process whereby you learn to identify the maladaptive thoughts at the root of your anxiety, confront them, and replace them with healthy thoughts that support recovery.
The improvements from the cognitive restructuring at the core of CBT aren’t just mental: a recent study found that CBT can act on structures in the brain which have been linked to social anxiety and regulate their activity to normal levels, highlighting the long-term benefits of the therapy and its ability to create lasting biological changes in the brain even after treatment.
“We were able to show that structural changes occur in brain areas linked to self-control and emotion regulation,” explains Annette Brühl, who took part in the study. Disruptions in emotional regulation in people with social anxiety disorder have been demonstrated in numerous studies, but the current study reveals that CBT can potentially resolve these disruptions by increasing the connectivity of areas in the brain linked to this process. Through the examination of these changes, Brühl and her team concluded that psychotherapy like CBT “normalizes brain changes associated with social anxiety disorder.”
Paving the Way to Treatment
The very nature of social anxiety disorder—the fear of situations that lead to social humiliation and rejection—is itself a barrier to treatment. This makes tools like Steps all the more important, as they act as stepping stones to treatment by providing you with tasks that can help you curb your anxiety and begin your journey to recovery on your own terms.
In this way, you can make the transition to comprehensive residential treatment in a more stable, confident state of mind and be more prepared for the recovery process that lies ahead. The outside world may seem scary to you now, but understand that your fears don’t have to determine the course of your life—by exploring and facing them, you can finally break free from them and begin living your life to its fullest potential.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with social anxiety disorder. Contact us to learn more about the treatment process for your mental health challenge and the best way to quell your fears and begin recovering.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Stuart Vivier
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